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    Engineering union and Boeing face off in fraught pilot contract dispute

    In fraught negotiations over a new contract for a group of 23 technical and safety pilots, Boeing has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against its engineering union while the union raised the level of acrimony Thursday by publicly blaming a skewed company safety culture for blocking progress.

    The affected group, based at Boeing Field, are Flight Technical and Safety Pilots with the Flight Operations Group. Their current contract expires Monday.

    These are not the pilots who routinely fly production aircraft. The technical pilots develop pilot training programs and pilot manuals and liaise with airlines on their flight operations. The safety pilots work to help develop flight deck systems for new aircraft and support certification efforts.

    In a statement Thursday, Ray Goforth, executive director of Boeing’s white-collar union, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, said the dispute reflects a safety culture that devalues this pilot group.

    He said the most contentious issue in the contract talks is pay and that the latest company proposal offers to pay these pilots “28.6% less than the Boeing corporate pilots who chauffeur executives around.”

    “With the entire world focused on the Boeing safety culture, it was truly startling to see how differently Boeing leadership values the safe operation of its products versus the comfort of executives,” Goforth said.

    For the company, Boeing spokesperson Doug Alder insisted that “we respect and recognize the important role our technical and safety pilots play in enhancing our safety efforts and supporting our customers.”

    “These pilots are already well paid (averaging over $240,000 a year), and our contract offer would ensure they continue to be well compensated,” Alder said via email.

    “We are disappointed that the union is not bargaining in good faith,” Alder continued. “Their most recent proposal is significantly higher than the original economic offer they made when bargaining began.”

    He said the union asked for an immediate 28% wage increase to match the pilots of the corporate jets.

    Citing bad faith bargaining over this shift in salary demands, “indicating a clear lack of good faith desire to reach agreement,” Boeing has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

    The dispute grows hot over a pay comparison

    In early negotiations the union asked for pay parity with Boeing’s production pilots, who fly newly built aircraft on their initial flights.

    Goforth said the current dispute ignited when Boeing insisted that the correct comparison was with the pilots who fly the corporate jets who ferry executives around.

    He said Boeing at first refused to disclose what the corporate pilots are paid, then relented and released the data. It later asked SPEEA’s negotiators to sign a retroactive Non-Disclosure Agreement so that they couldn’t disclose this information to the pilot group.

    SPEEA declined, said Goforth, calling the request “weird.”

    In its filing with the NLRB, Boeing complained that “the Union has refused to engage in any discussions or negotiations over a nondisclosure agreement that would protect the Company’s proprietary information.”

    When the corporate pilot pay data revealed the 28.6% gap, the union raised its demand to match that, Goforth said. SPEEA asked for an immediate pay raise to close that gap, plus another 3.5% each year of the three-year contract thereafter.

    Boeing told the NLRB that this latest demand “moved the parties significantly further away from reaching a deal.”

    Goforth said that during negotiations Boeing called a meeting of the pilot group and told them they would be bringing in outside contract pilots for work that overlaps with that of the SPEEA-represented group.

    The pilots interpreted this as a threat to their jobs, he said.

    The union has complained for several years that Boeing has systematically hollowed out the SPEEA pilot group, replacing in-house Boeing pilots with contractors.

    “The resulting degradation in expert advice given to Boeing’s airline customers is another example of the safety-culture problem highlighted by the FAA” on Wednesday, Goforth said.

    With the dispute mired in acrimony, both sides complain that opposing negotiators have several times failed to show up for scheduled bargaining sessions.



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